Actress Laura Dern at an SF code-a-thon hosted by Booking.com. (Photography by Brendan Mansfield)

Actress Laura Dern announces Booking.com's STEM scholarships for girls at an SF code-a-thon

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Not gonna lie: We showed up to this Booking.com code-a-thon event to see actress Laura Dern—oh she of such cult-viewing as Big Little Lies, Citizen Ruth, and Jurassic Park.

Tall and willowy, she was wearing a black body-con dress stitched with ribbon that thematically referenced either bondage wear or Frankenstein. Her warmth and interest in these fresh-faced high schoolers—a chosen dozen or so who attended a two-day coding boot camp hosted by Booking—seemed quite genuine as she gathered them around the fireplace at the CNET Smart Home in Laurel Heights: "Why do you want to learn to code?" she asked. The overwhelming response: To change the world.


CNET's Smart Home in Laurel Heights served as the venue for Booking.com's girls code-a-thon with special guest Laura Dern.(Brendan Mansfield)

Such idealism was music to Dern's ears, since she freely admits that she "literally, barely knows how to operate a computer." The actress also talked about her 13-year-old daughter, Jaya, who is apparently "always on her devices," but shares the girls' wide-eyed enthusiasm for the tech-dominated future that most of us older than the age of 35 actually fear.

As a travel-fare aggregator, Booking.com is very data-driven. So, here are a few stats they'd like you to chew on: Some U.S. metrics say that only 23 percent of high school AP computer-science exam takers are female; of computer-science college grads, only 19 percent are female; and, since low numbers can only beget low numbers, roughly one-quarter of today's computing workforce is made up of women. This unapologetically gendered coding bootcamp brings attention to what those in the biz call "the pipeline problem"—according to Forbes, it's the "belief that there are not enough minorities and females graduating with degrees in the STEM field." Theoretically, if more teenage girls learned fluency in cyber languages (HTML, JavaScript, and CMS), the industry inequality would eventually even out. It's a reality that Booking.com's CEO, Gillian Tans, is quite invested in—as one of tech's few female leaders, she finds her top-level view of the predominately male landscape disconcerting.

After the girls proudly flaunted the platforms they began building at the Code-a-Thon (including a few Booking.com revamps, an app that connects artists with buyers, and an on-demand boba-tea delivery site), Dern announced Booking.com's $350,000 commitment to scholarships for STEM students at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and Spelman College in the ATL. The girls cheer, hopeful that they'll earn some of that money for their own education, not unlike the offspring of certain entitled celebrities who are making headlines of late. "Thank god girls like you are going to change the world," says Dern. "We need you."

Dern, who admits her own lackluster skills with a computer, picks up some pointers.

(Brendan Mansfield)

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